The Commemoration of the Reformation
+ IN NOMINE IESU +
“Defend us from all enemies,” we prayed in today’s collect. The enemies of the church are the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature. That means that the enemies of the church are not only on the outside, but they are also among us here, indeed, in every one of us.
And this last enemy is only the reason why we commemorate the Reformation. We don’t celebrate the Reformation because Luther was a brilliant theologian, even though he was. We don’t celebrate the Reformation because Luther came up with some new biblical insight because he didn’t. We celebrate the Reformation because Luther called attention to the enemy within—the enemy that aspired to water down Christian theology, the enemy that desired to take our focus off of Christ, from upon His Word and promises, the enemy that wanted to distort the doctrine of justification so as to rob the Christian of the only comfort that matters.
Luther called out to the church of his day to make a return to the center of all theology and the life of the church, to go back to what the church had always known but had forgotten. He called the church of his day to repentance. To confess their sin and turn away from it, but in turning away from it to turn to Christ for forgiveness, life, and salvation. He called them to return to the biblical teaching of the doctrine of justification. For Luther knew that this article of faith, this doctrine is the doctrine upon which the church either stands or falls.
The doctrine of justification is the doctrine that teaches us how we are saved from sin, death, and hell. It is the doctrine that states that we are saved by God’s grace, without our own works, which is received by faith, but on account of the substitutionary death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It answers the question “How do you know you are saved?” by stating, “Because Jesus bled and died for all my sins and was raised again from the dead. I believe this, and He promised that those who believes this are saved.” It is what St. Paul teaches in today’s epistle reading.
This faith is given by the work of the Holy Spirit through the proclamation of God’s Word and promises. It is given through Holy Baptism when the Holy Spirit by means of the Word-infused water creates faith in Jesus’ substitutionary death and resurrection. And this faith is strengthened by the Lord’s Supper, when Jesus Christ, who by His Word sends His Spirit to make mere bread and wine to bear His very body and blood to take away our sin and give us everlasting life and eternal salvation. By justification, the enemy within us is put to death, and a new person emerges to be a holy and righteous person in God’s sight.
And yet, our old sinful nature still clings to our flesh. And so a war is waged in us with the enemy within. We still are attacked by those outside, but the enemy within is the only one we can do anything about. And the good news is that God has provided the way to do it.
He gives us His Word, filled with His promises and His teaching, not only on how we are saved but also on how we are to live. He gives us His body and blood, which not only takes away sin and gives life and salvation, but also nourishes our faith in Jesus, gives us courage to face the enemies from the outside and from within. He gives us brothers and sisters in His family, the church, so that by mutual conversation and consolation, we can be built up with one another. He gives us rich hymns and psalms and chants and canticles, that help us sing, not only praise and thanksgiving, but teach us the faith, how to believe and think and speak, in the same way as we learned our ABCs. He gives us bountiful resources so that we may teach our own, reach out to the lost, and care for all who are in need around us. Indeed, everything is ours because we belong to Him.
And thus we celebrate today, that despite the anxiety we feel from our enemies—from the devil and the world—who attack us, and despite the feeling of hopelessness that comes from our enemy within, we, in fact, have every reason to hope. We have every reason to be confident. We have every reason to rejoice. For Jesus Christ, who was crucified for our transgressions, is raised for our justification. We are declared righteous in God’s eyes because of Jesus Christ. Our sins have been forgiven. Everlasting life and eternal salvation are ours. God is with us. Who then can stand against us? For God is our fortress and our might. And His victory over sin, death, and the devil is ours. Amen.